“Come and watch this,” Bradman told them. “You’ll never see such batting again as long as you live.”
Bradman rated McCabe’s 232 that day as the finest innings he ever saw.
“If I could play an innings like that, I’d be a proud man, Stan,” said Bradman after McCabe was dismissed by Yorkshire’s Hedley Verity.
It is not known whether England captain Joe Root exhorted his colleagues in similar manner in Melbourne yesterday while Alastair Cook was in the throes of compiling an unbeaten 244 against Australia.
But Root would have been justified in echoing Bradman’s words that “you’ll never see such batting again”.
Not because Cook’s fifth Test double hundred had, by all accounts, the glitter and gold of McCabe’s in Nottingham, but because we rarely see nowadays such exhibitions of endurance, such willingness to knuckle down and bat for long periods.
At stumps on day three, by which time he had spent the entire contest fielding or batting, Cook had resisted for 10 hours, 34 minutes at the crease and faced 409 balls, helping England to 491-9 and a first innings lead of 164 to surely avert the threat of a 5-0 whitewash.
Bradman, the greatest batsman that cricket has known (with all due respect to the rolling Steve Smith bandwagon), always reckoned that he had nothing on the now semi-forgotten McCabe other than in terms of concentration.
Bradman was renowned for it, the great English sporting all-rounder C.B. Fry noting that he owed “half his perfection” to the ability to stay focused and absorbed.
According to legend, Bradman described his 309 runs in a day at Headingley in 1930 as “a nice bit of practice for tomorrow”, and Cook is of a similar stamp.
Cook’s solution to a pitiful return of 83 runs in six innings prior to his Melbourne marathon had been simple hard work and plenty of it, with the hours of net practice finally paying off.
This attitude has carried Cook throughout his career, through the various trials and tribulations to the pinnacle of the most number of Test runs by an England batsman and, during his innings at the MCG, from No 9 to No 6 on the all-time list.
Cook ended the day with 11,956 Test runs to his credit, three more than surely the finest batsman of the modern era in the form of West Indies great Brian Lara.
Cook’s reaction to leaving Lara in his wake – having also gone past Mahela Jayawardene and Shivnarine Chanderpaul – was typically understated and appropriately self-deprecating.
“I can’t really explain that,” he said. “I feel a bit sorry for Brian, to be honest.”
Two more different styles of batsmen, in fact, it is difficult to imagine, and whereas one might have skived off work to watch Lara bat, or played hooky from school, the same risk would never be countenanced to go and see Cook, who is more grit and graft than fireworks and flair.
“Most of my runs are pretty ugly and hard work,” he admitted last night, adding that his performance in the series hitherto had left him embarrassed and fearing for his place.
Cook need fear for it no longer, and he clearly still has much to offer in the week that he turned 33.
Whenever Cook does decide to call it a day, it is difficult to escape the thought that we are witnessing a batsman who is very much the last of his type.
These days, players with the ability and, above all, the mindset to bat time as Cook does are rare in the T20 age, one in which traditional survival skills play second fiddle to the need to dominate bowlers and to dash off sixes.
Cook is deeply appreciated by cricketing connoisseurs but he does not capture the wider imagination because we live in an era that does not need any – just the ability to bask in the lowest common denominator of T20.
Young players do not want to bat time any more, or to save Test matches, because they are are conditioned to watching the likes of Chris Gayle, encouraged to brutalise bowling at every opportunity and to hell with the risk.
T20 is where the money is and where the adulation is, too; Cook is the equivalent of newsprint in a digital age.
So, enjoy him while you can and then tell your children – as they listen with deaf ears while watching the new English city-based T20 tournament – that you were lucky to do so, for, as someone once said of Stan McCabe, you will soon never see such batting again as long as you live.